In many ways, it was a weekend the Michigan softball team had craved all season.
The Wolverines pounded out 53 hits — over double the amount they had the weekend before, and the most production they have seen in a single weekend all season. Twelve separate players tallied hits, contributing to the weekend’s grand total, and the Wolverines scored 45 runs in all.
All three members of the pitching rotation saw time in the circle, and senior right-hander Megan Betsa notched the 100th win of her career. She became the fourth Michigan player in the program’s history to attain this feat.
The Wolverines put out all the stops, and when Sunday’s shutout — where Michigan belted 20 unanswered runs — came to a close, the Wolverines’ regular season did as well.
The weekend — which saw No. 19 Michigan (20-3 Big Ten, 41-10-1 overall) rout Rutgers (5-18, 14-37) with a 3-0 series sweep Saturday and Sunday — was a strong culmination of the Wolverines’ dominant season. Michigan launches into its postseason riding a nine-game winning streak and showing no signs of stopping heading into the Big Ten Tournament, which commences later this week.
“I like the direction we’re headed in,” said Michigan coach Carol Hutchins. “We’re swinging well and playing as a team with a lot of fun and a lot of passion. I’m really liking it.”
The Wolverines clinched the series over the Scarlet Knights Saturday with back-to-back 6-1 and 19-1 victories, claiming their eighth-straight conference series. Michigan blasted 25 runs on 34 hits in total.
Capitalizing on a Rutgers fielding error with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the first, the Wolverines picked up a 2-0 lead they would never relinquish in the first game of the series.
With a leadoff solo shot in the fourth inning, senior third baseman Lindsay Montemarano increased Michigan’s edge, hitting her fourth home run of the season. Montemarano’s was the sole long ball seen in the game by either team.
Betsa struck out 12 to earn the complete-game win in the circle. The ace has netted double-digit strikeout counts in 19 games this season, tallying a total of 370 — good for No. 1 in the nation.
The Wolverines had a record-breaking second game, with a season-high run count (19) and hit count (23).
Diverging from a small-ball approach that accounted for most of the runs in the first slate of the doubleheader, the Wolverines posted four home runs throughout the second game. Three of them came during a tremendous second inning.
Already up 3-0 heading into the second, Michigan’s bats exploded, posting 10 runs in just one inning. Senior centerfielder Kelly Christner began a chain of home runs with a two-run bomb to left center. Junior first baseman Aidan Falk and sophomore catcher Katie Alexander followed suit, both pounding no-doubt, three-run shots to break the game open.
Alexander notched two home runs in total, knocking her second in the fifth inning with a two-run shot. Alexander notched a career-best five runs batted-in during the game.
Sunday was more of the same for the Wolverines, as they earned a new season-high run count of 20 and hit another four home runs in the series finale.
Sophomore second baseman Faith Canfield posted a career-high four hits and three RBIs, while Falk and Christner both blasted home runs in the outing to bring their total on the weekend to two.
The Michigan underclassmen and bench made their mark as well, as freshman left fielder Madison Uden and junior infielder Taylor Swearingen slugged home runs — the second for both this season. Freshman outfielder Haley Hoogenraad set a career-high in RBIs, driving in four.
In the circle, Betsa and junior right-hander Tera Blanco neutralized Rutgers’ offensive efforts, combining for a no-hitter over five innings of work.
In a way, the Wolverines had a fairy tale ending to their regular season. Michigan swept the Scarlet Knights to conclude its regular season in 2016 as well.
But in other ways, this year’s ending was undeniably different.
Last year, when the Wolverines trounced Rutgers in their final weekend series, they had clinched the conference title, the hallmark of their ninth-straight year doing so. This year, Michigan heads into the Big Ten Tournament one spot behind No. 4 Minnesota, the possibility of a tenth-straight conference title having evaded them. The Golden Gophers lost only one conference game, in comparison to the Wolverines’ three Big Ten losses.
Despite the shadow cast by the fact that Michigan will enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed instead of No. 1, the Wolverines are maintaining positive perspectives about their performance. After all, there is much to be proud of with a record-setting weekend that included two run-rule victories and a no-hitter.
“I think we came out and played hard to finish up strong in the Big Ten this weekend,” Alexander said. “I think we’ve all been working on getting our swings really big and we just hit a lot of home runs this weekend, so we’re set to do well for the tournament.”
Added Hutchins: “We’re happy to have (the tournament) at home. We’re very fortunate, but you still got to go out and play well and pitch well. I think if we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we will be good enough.”
Seeing as Minnesota still has Michigan’s number from their last encounter, when the Golden Gophers upset the Wolverines in the championship round of the Big Ten Tournament, it is clear that the frontrunner in the conference does not always determine who will win the tournament.
And with Michigan’s current offensive hot streak, not taking the regular-season title this year could ignite the fire the Wolverines need to perform in the tournament, and to potentially win it all.